Real Courage

“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” – Robert F Kennedy

It is remarkable to me that physical courage is so common and morale courage is so rare. Policemen and policewomen, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, firefighters, law enforcement men and women of all types, and others risk their lives every day against very real and mortal dangers to protect us. By contrast, my experiences at senior levels of the military and government have been that very few are willing to venture even the mildest opinions outside the party line and almost no principled opposition or competing visions to move initiatives toward a greater good, a larger purpose.

There are very few honest debates at these levels, no direct challenges to the conventional thinking, no calling into question the preconceived determinations of those above, there is “going along to get along”, and avoidance of the difficult job of solving and preventing the institutional problems that define a leader’s duties. These timid and comfortable souls are avoiding their responsibilities at the most primary level. They believe that nothing is their fault, that they can’t change anything anyway, that they don’t have to care, something or someone else had ordained the chosen path, and there is no such thing as personal failure.

The effect on organizations over time, especially large ones, is truly dismal; an acquired taste for congenial and superficial personal relationships, the continued patronage of seniors, and a general air of acquiescence in important matters dooms the mission and people to perpetual mediocrity. Reform, change, growth, and robust organizational health cannot find purchase in such a place. Imagine what America would be like today if, during the civil rights struggles of the Sixty’s, men like John E. Lewis had not asked? “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

Real courage is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking; doing the unpopular thing because it’s what you believe.

It’s not enough to know what’s right, leaders must do what’s right. Even when it’s difficult. Especially when it’s difficult. And it always will be. If it were easy, someone else would have done it already.

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“Good men don’t become legends,” he said quietly. “Good men don’t need to become legends.” She opened her eyes, looking up at him. “They just do what’s right anyway.” ― Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension

Keith Stalder, #37

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